Jan 21

From the Town Administrator's Desk - January 21, 2022

Posted on January 21, 2022 at 9:16 AM by Tiffany Marletta

Storm Damage Demonstrates our Vulnerability
By Gregory T. Federspiel

The Martin Luther King Day storm was relatively short lived and not too disruptive to our daily lives, but it brought high winds and a storm surge that provided a clear demonstration of how vulnerable we are to storms.  While the surge was less then 2 feet, it coincided with a high tide that sent waves crashing into some of our more vulnerable parts of town.

Ocean Street sustained the greatest amount of damage.  A section of the seawall and sidewalk near Black Beach collapsed.  A section of road at White Beach also was severely damaged.   Ocean Street is certainly our most vulnerable road and every year sections of it either get buried in sand or undermined.   Protecting the roadway into the future will be very challenging as the ocean wants to reclaim the salt marsh that lies on the other side of the road.

West or “Stinky” Beach on Harbor Street is also extremely vulnerable.  The seawall along the low-lying area held this time though the surf was crashing over it and did some undermining here as well.  A section of the seawall was re-built recently.  It is likely that the remaining sections will need to be rebuilt and the question of increasing the height of the seawall remains.   This is also one area where the train tracks are very close to sea level in Manchester. (Large sections of the MBTA Rockport line are likely to be impassable as sea levels and storm surges rise posing a whole other set of challenges.)  

Besides losing sand that will naturally return to the beach, the revetment at Singing Beach sustained minor damage.  We will need to reposition some of the large boulders that make up the revetment and replace the choke stone that is wedged in between the larger stone.  It is not hard to imagine the entire revetment being destroyed in a bigger storm with waves reaching to the homes that sit behind it.    

We came close to losing the Rotunda at Tuck’s Point.  The pier, walkway and the Rotunda’s decking and benches were all underwater.  Another foot or so of water could well have had enough force to sweep the Rotunda off its pilings.  The pilings are on their last legs as old age has taken its toll.   The substructure needs to be rebuilt.  When we do this the Army Corp will require that the Rotunda be elevated 9 feet or so.   This means the pier and walkway will need to tie into the higher knoll next to the existing landing.  The new retaining wall at the beach area was undermined and will need to be repaired even though it was designed to withstand this type of event. It is hard to fully appreciate the force of the ocean.     

We will develop engineering plans for the renovation of the Rotunda targeting the new construction in the fall of 2023 assuming we can secure the needed funding.  It will not be cheap – cost could run in the $4 million range.  The Rotunda project along with the need for new athletic fields at Sweeney and at the old burn dump on Pine Street could be funded in large part by new bonds paid for by the Community Preservation surcharge.  Instead of doing a debt exclusion vote, we might want to consider approving an increase in the Community Preservation surcharge which would have the benefit of  generating additional state matching dollars.    

We face many significant challenges related to bigger storms.  This last storm provided a small example of just some of our vulnerabilities.   There will be a need for in-depth community discussions on how best to be more resilient to the damages that could result from surging seas and other threats.  And determining how we should pay for the efforts needed to be better protected must be part of these discussions.  We did not get the foot plus of snow that all the rain from this last storm could have brought had it been a bit colder but we did get a taste of the power the sea can wield.  

Jan 18

From the Town Administrator's Desk - January 18, 2022

Posted on January 18, 2022 at 7:40 PM by Tiffany Marletta

New Climate Resiliency Efforts Underway
By Gregory T. Federspiel

New efforts are getting underway to help us better understand some of the impacts we can expect changes in our climate will bring and to help us prioritize actions to take to make us more resilient to the changes that are occurring. One of the efforts, which I wrote about last week, is the new Water Resources Protection Task Force that has as part of it charge assessing climate change impacts to our drinking water supply.  Three important regional initiatives are underway as well.

The four Cape Ann communities have teamed up with TownGreen 2025, a regional non-profit working to advance solutions to the changes an altered climate is bringing, for the “Voices for Climate Action” project.  This effort aims to thoroughly document the values we hold, the places we cherish and the threats we worry about.  Capturing what is the “heart and soul” of Cape Ann will allow us to formulate solutions to climate threats that mean the most to residents and thus will have the support needed to implement the solutions. Solutions with grassroots support are the ones that will be successful.    

The “Voices” project is comprised of two parts – interviewing as wide array of residents as possible to hear their stories about why they live here, and an ethnographic study of Cape Ann residents chronicling the culture and character of the region.   The former effort will be done by volunteers in each of the four communities and the latter will be done by Professor Gerhard Doherty and a pair of research fellows from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design as part of their American Cities Initiative.  Combined, the efforts will provide useful insights into who we are what we value and what we will be motived to protect.  

If you are interested in working on the Voices project here in Manchester, please let me know.   Support is being provided by the four communities with most of needed funds coming from the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA).

Another initiative, being organized by TownGreen2025 through the Gloucester Meeting House Foundation, is a study of climate change impacts and potential solutions in three specific areas.  The first element of the study is documenting the expected impacts of a medium sized hurricane.  Very few of us have experienced the destruction of a hurricane and most of us have little understanding of the impacts such a storm will have on the region. With this understanding, we can take steps now to help mitigate the potential devastation.  This brings us to the other elements of the study which will look at 1) how we can provide net zero housing (housing that has a zero carbon footprint), 2) how we can prioritize which parts of our coastline we should try to protect through more “armoring” (higher seawalls, etc.) verses creating bigger natural buffer zones to absorb the higher waters, and 3) how best to manage our wastewater and solid waste disposal needs in a more energy efficient and ecologically sound manner especially in light of the likely flooding out or our existing sewer plants.  

Through private fundraising and state funds secured with the assistance of Senator Bruce Tarr, a team of faculty and post graduate students affiliated with Harvard’s graduate School of Design under the leadership of Professor Charles Waldheim will be conducting these studies.  In the coming months forums will be held to present the work.

The third regional effort underway is under EPA’s Building Blocks Program.  Cape Ann was one of four grant recipients nationally this year to receive technical assistance through this program. The deliverables for this effort will be two public forums this coming spring.  The first will focus on the shared values and concerns Cape Ann resident have (as documented in the “Voices” project)  for this place we call home and a review of efforts to date on protecting our cherished places and our local economy from climate change impacts.   The second forum will focus on preferred solutions to climate change impacts and recommendations for funding opportunities from state and federal sources.

It promises to be a busy few months on the climate change front.  I hope that you will be motivated to lend your thoughts and suggestions as we work toward identifying the top priorities we need to pursue in order to increase our resilience to the changes that are happening around us.   

Jan 09

From the Town Administrator's Desk - January 9, 2022

Posted on January 9, 2022 at 10:14 AM by Tiffany Marletta

Water Resources Protection Task Force
By Gregory T. Federspiel

The re-establishment of a water resources protection group is getting underway.  Following suggestions from residents and with the leadership help of Steve Gang, Chairman of the Conservation Commission,  the Selectmen have approved the creation of a new task force as a sub-committee of the Conservation Commission.  A water resources protection committee was created back in 1989 when voters approved the creation of the committee and funded a comprehensive report on the Town’s water resources (the Horsley Witten Report of 1990.)  Many of the recommendations of this report were carried out in the 1990’s after which the committee became inactive.  

The new Task Force is charged with reviewing the 1990 report, updating it, and recommending additional action steps the Town should take to ensure an adequate and high-quality water supply for residents for the long-term. It is anticipated that the Task Force will need 12 to 18 months to complete its work. Consultants expert in hydrology and other related sciences likely will be hired to assist.

Membership in the Task Force is comprised of representatives from numerous boards and committees – the Conservation Commission, the Board of Selectmen, the Board of Health, the Planning Board, the Open Space and Recreation Committee and the Stream Team.   In addition, up to 6 “at large” members will be appointed.  Each represented board or committee will choose their representatives who will be confirmed by the Selectmen.  Residents interested in serving as one of the “at large” members should send a letter of interest to the Selectmen’s office at Town Hall. Interviews at an upcoming Selectmen’s meeting will be arranged.  Staff support from the DPW, Planning Department and Town Administrator’s office will be provided.  

The Town is fortunate to have adequate supplies of drinking water, but it behooves us to make sure this is the case for decades to come.  Complicating forecasting into the future is the impacts climate change is bringing.  While it may be that our part of the world becomes wetter, we could also face periods of more severe draught and rising sea levels could impact the salinity of ground water – a particular concern for the Lincoln Street well.  These and many other factors need to be researched for their impacts on our water supply.  

The Town draws water from Gravelly Pond and from the Lincoln Street Well.  Water from Gravely Pond and the surrounding area is treated at the Town’s water treatment plant that sits near the pond.  Gravelly Pond is fed by surface water runoff, springs and a near-by well. Much of the land in the area is protected from development. The Lincoln Street well is fed into the water system directly after being chlorinated. It draws water from about 80 feet down tapping into groundwater that is part of the Sawmill Brook watershed.  

Deliverables from the Task Force will include updates to the 1990 Report, priority action steps needed to enhance our water resource protection efforts and recommendations for how we ensure we build in long term responsibility and accountability for managing our water resources.  

The Town is fortunate to have talented and dedicated volunteers willing to assist in this important work.  Let us hear from you if you would like to join those already appointed to the Task Force.